On Thursday August 5th, 2021 Indigenous youth gathered on the shores of Three Mile Lake in Wasauksing First Nation to begin the four-day canoe trip around Wasauksing called, Bemishkaajig. Canoes, gear, and camping equipment lined the shoreline of the in-land lake, preparing for the first day of paddling and the first portage of the trip.
“Our Name, Bemishkaajig was bestowed to us as a canoeing group by Waabishka Mukwa, Dr. Brian McInnes of Wasauksing. Bemishkaajig is a word that was used by Duncan Pegahmagabow-ban that refers to the journey we take as we paddle along the water, but also can be applied to the way that we journey through Bemaadizi (life).” says Jordan Tabobondung, Bemishkaajig Co-Organizer.
Earlier in the summer, Wasauksing First Nation (WFN) invited local community members and organizations to partner on the project. The Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY), Parry Sound Friendship Centre (PSFC), and Rama First Nation jumped at the opportunity to be out on the beautiful waters of Mnidoo Gamii, Georgian Bay.
GBAY members and staff shared the responsibilities of paddling Oshkinigig throughout the four days of Bemishkaajig. “Paddling Oshkinigig was fun and challenging. We quickly learned how to care for Oshkinigig on the water, and on the rocks. She turns well, so smooth and effortlessly. It was quite a challenge when we were paddling through Depot Harbor.” Says Taylor Judge, GBAY Advisory member.
Wasauksing provided a dedicated staff to support the canoe trip by boat. Knowledge Holders, Elders, and guests were transported to each camping site to visit, share stories, and sing songs with the youth. Those that were new to canoeing in Mnidoo Gamii often would utilize the boat to carry extra gear and equipment. The boat was a safety measure and carried our food. On day two of the trip, the youth could be seen paddling up to the boat to replenish their waters, grabbing a snack or two, and a popsicle.
“It was so amazing to be out canoeing around my home. It was an awesome group of people to be out with, no matter how tired some people got from the long days of paddling you could always get a smile out of them. It was especially special to have Oshkinigig out and see her in Georgian Bay.” Dawson Bloor says, GBAY Advisory member.
GBAY coordinator, Kyla Judge reflects on the journey “When Wasauksing invited us to participate, it was obvious that we had to paddle Oshkinigig. When we launched off the shores of Three Mile, one of the youth had said ‘I wonder when the last time a wiigwaas jiimaan (birch bark canoe) has been paddled here? I bet you my grandparents, and their parents, paddled a wiigwaas jiimaan.’ The trip was exciting and emotional. For many of us, it felt like a homecoming. We had the opportunity to visit so many places and spaces of our homelands that we would not have had without canoes.”
Bemishkaajig 2021 offered a tremendous amount of learning for everyone involved. From paddling and logistics, to reclaiming understandings and connecting with traditional ways, the partnership and collective work enabled this story to be lived and shared.